Jai Rodriguez has been commanding the spotlight since he was a child singing solos at his mega church. At just 18, he was cast as the lead in RENT. A few years later, he received the call that would change everything and was soon minted as our beloved “Culture Vulture” in the OG Fab Five during Queer Eye’s immensely popular original run. Jai continues to dominate the television world in multiple shows, including Dollface, about a woman trying to pick herself back up and rediscover friendship following an unexpected break up. You can also find Jai in the fourth and final season of EastSiders, a dark comedy that tackles addiction and infidelity among a group of friends in East LA. Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming dates for his one man show!
Cliché: You were cast in RENT at the age of 18. What was it like to skyrocket to stardom?
Jai Rodriguez: It was an oddly smooth transition as the mega church I grew up in sat 2500 comfortably. I was a frequent soloist so I remember thinking the Broadway theater was smaller than my church. LOL! The real adjustment was going from being a high school student to living on my own and making an adult salary. Growing up in a conservative religious home I wasn’t exposed to much about the world that wasn’t “Christian.” My RENT years really formed who I am today and instilled a disciplined work ethic I am still known for today. #TheaterBoy 😛
You’ve performed a variety of one man shows. What is it about the one man show that’s so attractive to you as a performer?
I would say I’m a storyteller. Regardless of the medium, that’s what I consider myself. One man shows, especially cabarets, are an intimate experience. There’s really nothing like taking an audience on a journey in real time and the relationship that develops during the show is unmatched for me in any other medium. In fact, I’m actually booking dates for 2020 so keep checking my social media for when I might be in a city near you!
How did you become involved with the original Queer Eye Fab Five?
I had taken a 6-month hiatus from RENT to open a new off Broadway musical called ZANNA DON’T, in which I played the title character Zanna. It was OFF Broadway so I held onto my night at XL a (at the time) New gay bar that had a large performance space. I had a live band, back ground singers, and costumes etc. It was THE Monday night in queer NYC for a while. I’d sing top 40 and musical theater songs with a special celebrity guests each week. We managed to build a steady following which packed the place weekly. Which at the time was rare for a guy in queer night life. During that time, I got a call from my agency saying they had lined up and an audition for a new TV series. It was un-scripted and they had a tricky time telling me what exactly it was. I went in and sat across from a woman who would ultimately be our product placement person. She asked me some basic questions and enjoyed my detailed answers. I got a call back on the spot, but was told to say I was older since I was only 23 at the time. The next day I had a chemistry test with 2 of the guys already on the show (Carson and Ted) who’d been on the pilot version. By the way, NO ONE MENTIONED IT WAS A CHEMISTRY TEST, so I assumed the three of us were up for the same role I left thinking I absolutely didn’t get it, as the guys seemed very aggressive and snarky. I was just funny in return. I got a call an hour later that I had booked the role and I was shocked.
Were you surprised that Queer Eye for the Straight Guy made such as splash at the time and had such a lasting cultural impact?
I was VERY surprised. We all were. It is a huge honor to have been on the first out gay cast in network history. The new cast is fantastic and so incredibly kind. I do wish our original version was easily accessible online.
What’s your fondest memory of the show?
Probably the chemistry we all shared. It is a shame in the era of a reboot they never explored having us do a special or something.
What do you think of the new Fab Five?
Obsessed. Nice to have five new brothers in the QUEER EYE fraternity!
Talk about your new show, Dollface.
Kat Dennings plays a woman who gets dumped by her longtime boyfriend and suddenly has to deal with her own imagination as she literally and metaphorically re-enters the world of women. She has to rekindle the female friendships that she left behind while in her relationship. I LOVE Kat Dennings and she is hilarious in this. SOOOO relatable.
The show revolves around the main character Jules, trying to re-enter the world of women after getting dumped by her long-term boyfriend. What commentary do you think Dollface has to offer on the value of female friendship?
I think it shows that friendships are layered… They can also evolve which can be scary if you don’t like change.
Have you ever prioritized a relationship over your friendships? How can we better balance the two?
Ugh Yes!!!!!! NEVER AGAIN! You must set your priorities and decide what kind of friend you want to be. Be honest with yourself about that. Set boundaries with your partner so you can create space for your friends.
Tell us about your other show, EastSiders.
EastSiders received a Daytime EMMY Award nom back in 2016. It is an incredible dark comedy that explores the relationships of a group of friends on the east side of LA. It’s so great and I’m thrilled to be back for its 4th and final season.
In your opinion, what makes dark comedy such an effective vehicle to tackle traditionally heavy issues like substance abuse and infidelity?
My best guess is because it’s sometimes hard to deal with the complexity of emotions that are brought up by the many scenarios the show explores. Interjecting humor (all be it dark) relaxes the mind and allows us to go deeper without the audience feeling it’s too heavy. EastSiders balances that perfectly. DM me and tell me what you think of it! @jairodriguez
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Jai Rodriguez is as Fab as Ever in “Dollface” and “EastSiders.” Photo Credit: Storm Santos.